Guides + Resources

Three Things That Queer Applicants Are Sick Of Hearing During The Hiring Process

Here are the three very common and very real phrases that queer applicants have heard during interviews with ‘progressive’ companies which are not just extremely problematic, but also incredibly alienating and discriminatory.

After the Section 377 judgement in 2018, many companies seem to be working towards affirmative hiring practices and sensitisation sessions focused on sexism and homophobia. Most, of course, still couldn’t be bothered and are either busy waiting for Pride month to change their logos to the rainbow or looking the other way and pretending that queer people simply don’t exist. Unfortunately, no matter which of these categories a company falls under, there is a serious ignorance of the fact that any person begins experiencing a workplace not on their first day at the job, but from the very moment when they send in an application. Even the most ‘progressive’ companies can mess this up completely if they decide to post their job listing on multiple platforms without checking the policies that they operate by. Some smaller job search websites do not even allow applicants to upload resumes that have ‘forbidden’ words in them. So if in one case ‘sex’ is perhaps a ‘bad’ word, an applicant who has worked on ‘organising an open mic night for same-sex couples’ cannot even send across their resume without understanding why.

One would want to assume, however, that the moment an automated system goes away and actual human interaction starts, queer applicants would have some sense of comfort, but unfortunately, the opposite is usually true. This is the first time that a queer applicant is interacting with the team that they are looking forward to working with. The interview should be an opportunity for the candidate and the recruiter to understand whether it is a good person-environment fit, not an ‘Introduction to Workplace Homophobia’ session. Here are the three very common and very real phrases that queer applicants have heard during interviews with ‘progressive’ companies which are not just extremely problematic, but also incredibly alienating and discriminatory. They can either come up during the ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ part of the interview when an applicant asks specifically about the work culture or policies, or during the ‘here is what our team is like’ introduction that recruiters often start with.

“We are a very professional and progressive company, we are really not interested in anyone’s gender or sexuality.”

Any queer person who listens to this phrase immediately hears warning bells in their head because this is obviously code for ‘we pretend that homophobia and sexism don’t exist so that we don’t have to deal with them’. Firstly, all companies should be extremely concerned with the gender and sexuality of their employees so that they can make the workplace healthy for everyone involved. Pretending that everyone experiences an environment in the exact same way is the opposite of ‘professional and progressive’. If you erase your employee’s gender, then you erase their pronouns, their preferred bathroom situation, and other needs that they may have like menstrual and maternity/paternity leave. You are not only ignoring the problems but systematically causing them because you are refusing to acknowledge the reality that people face when they put in their hard work for you. You not being ‘interested’ is actually you not being bothered. And if you aren’t bothered, then you are not worth an applicant’s time.

“This role involves interacting with trans people so we need someone who is woke enough to understand things like how offended they get when you use the wrong pronouns and so on.”

If the position that a company is looking to fill actually is related to the queer community in a direct way because it involves reporting on queer issues, advertising to queer people, or even interacting with queer influencers, HOW the recruiter or interviewer describes that aspect of the job becomes a huge indicator of how the company culture actually sees the community. There are various versions of the above sentence that can be said, but they all end up implying the same thing- as far as the company is concerned, the queer community is the ‘other’. In this example, this interviewer is basically indirectly implying that being uncomfortable with the usage of wrong pronouns is a very uniquely trans thing, because ‘they’ get offended and you must be ‘woke’ enough to understand that. These kinds of sentences are dead giveaways of a performative ‘wokeness’ where a company is attempting to be correct, to be perceived as progressive without actually putting in the work to have proper sensitisation training that cause a culture shift in the organisation. It also can mean that the applicant, if openly queer, will be expected to be the token queer person in office because if an actual queer person had vetted how the role would be described, such sentences would not have been said in the first place.

“We haven’t needed any formal policies against discrimination or anything so far because we’re just like a family.”

You know what else is ‘just like a family’? Actual families. Which very commonly abuse, threaten, confine, and harm their queer children. Any company describing itself like a family is a red flag anyway, but when you use it as an excuse to not have an HR department or formal policies against discrimination, you are basically implying that you are the kind of joint family that lives for years under the same roof and pretends that nothing is wrong when actually everything is. Also, saying that you don’t have any policies because you haven’t needed any so far is absolutely nothing to be proud of. What it basically means is that you don’t care about your employees enough to prevent homophobia and sexism in the first place. Someone will have to be traumatised for you to realise that you need to prevent that from happening to a second employee. This is not an advertisement of your clean record; it is an indication of how comfortable you are with it not being purposeful. Queer applicants cannot just rely on your good word, having actual, tangible policies in the workplace and a functional HR department to ensure that they are being followed is the most basic of requirements for any company.

Why should you care about these things? Because you are very significantly reducing the talent that you can engage with and causing people discomfort in the very same breath. You do not get brownie points for appearing progressive without actually putting in the work to make sure that your culture, infrastructure, and values reflect a dedication to ensure the wellness and comfort of all employees. Not every applicant is going to out themselves to you in the first interview itself, so instead of having special guidelines for interviewing queer applicants, companies need to focus on revamping the interview process to make it sensitive to the needs of people whose identities fall at different intersections of the socio-political reality that we live in.

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The student that always has her hand up in class, and in life. Dreams of a world where Lizzo's songs automatically shower glitter on the listener, minorities are not constantly expected to put in unequal emotional labour for everything, and kind people find each other despite all the noise.
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